The Relationship between Language and Nation in the Development of Austrian German

Essay, 2009
26 Pages, Grade: 1,0


Table of Contents

List of Abbreviations

1 Introduction

2 German as a Pluricentric Language

3 The Special Development of Austrian German
3.1 Development in the 18th Century
3.2 Development in the 19th Century
3.3 Development From the Beginning of the 20th Century Until WWII
3.4 Development After WWII

4 Process of Standardisation
4.1 Selection of Norm
4.2 Codification of Form
4.3 Elaboration of Function and Acceptance by the Community

5 Conclusion


List of Abbreviations

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

1 Introduction

In the broadest sense, language is a means of identification and self-identification of individuals and social systems (Bodi 1995: 17). In German-speaking countries this can be a controversial issue. Terminologically, the existence of a nation-state called Ger- many (in German Deutschland = German country) makes it difficult for other German- speaking societies to determine their own national and linguistic idiosyncrasy (Bodi 1995: 19). Through the use of Austrian German language participants not only identify as Austrians, but the common language and history also necessitates identification with other members of the entire German language community. To understand this complex- ity, the development of Austrian German as a standard variety of the German language is necessary.

In the course of this essay it will become clear that historical transitions and political aspects of nation-building are essential constituents of language development or -as Clyne points out- the development of Austrian German norms ‘is reflected in a pendu- lum swing between language planning for national identity and an acceptance of stan- dardized German norms’ (Clyne 1992: 121). Therefore, theoretical, language-political and social-historical aspects of the development and current situation of Austrian Ger- man shall be investigated.

The complex situation that revolves around the German language demands the explora- tion of the concept of German as a pluricentric language, which will be dealt with in the second chapter. The third chapter is dedicated to the development of the Austrian stan- dard variety with emphasise on social and political history. A special emphasis is placed on the concept of nation-building and the associated national language. Furthermore, in chapter four the development of Austrian German norms shall be considered in the light of Haugen’s process of standardisation. A part of this chapter is also dedicated to ex- ploring the diglossic situation in Austria. Lastly, the essay also deals with the current situation of Austrian German and gives an example of how its general prestige can be raised. Finally, in a retrospective analysis of the paper, the research findings will be analysed and an outlook of the future development of Austrian German will be given in the concluding chapter six.

2 German as a Pluricentric Language

A special characteristic of the German language is its pluricentricity, which means that there is not only one centre that is considered the linguistic model. Today, the German language has three widely accepted model centres: Germany, Austria and Switzerland. In Austria and Switzerland national varieties exist alongside dialects (regional and local varieties). National varieties differ from dialects in their limitation to a certain national area. Therefore, unlike regional and local varieties, they are effective only within artifi- cial boundaries. National varieties are often raised to the level of a standard language. Still, there is often a grading between the various national varieties, and thus between the model centres (Clyne 1992: 1-3).

This has long been the case with the German language. The acceptance of German as a pluricentric language underwent a long process of discussion. Until the late 20th century, the German variety of Germany was considered the general norm, while the varieties of other German-speaking countries were seen as irregular and divergent. The Austrian national variety was regarded as a dialect or a regional variety of the Standard in Ger- many having a lower status than High German (Clyne 1992: 120). A solution would be that the most powerful national language models (such as German German) give up their claim for dominance and the less dominating national varieties (e.g. Austrian German) overcome the ‘cultural cringe’(Bodi 1995:33).

Regarding national varieties that are often referred to as standard varieties, another dif- ficulty emerges because the concept of a standard variety is highly debated among so- ciolinguists. Among a great deal of theories about standard varieties, the concept of Huesmann is noteworthy for it seems reasonable and applicable. Based on Ammon’s (2004: 274-275) definition, Huesmann states in her concept that a language or variety is standard if it is ‘codified’, ‘supra-regional’ and ‘of overt prestige’ (at least two of the former need to apply), and it must be ‘group-specific’, ‘prescriptive’, ‘multifunctional’ and ‘used in written language’ (Huesmann 1998: 34). A detailed investigation of the Austrian national variety in the following chapters will clearly show that Austrian Ger- man is entitled to be called a standard variety if applying Huesmann’s concept.

3 The Special Development of Austrian German

This chapter focuses on the historical background for the development of Austrian German norms. The process of standardising language is closely connected to sociopolitical and economic circumstances. Hence, an insightful investigation of the development of a standard language requires additional information on the people speaking the respective language. Therefore, the history of the Austrian society is enquired into in order to understand the linguistic developments.

Firstly, one needs to consider the relation between language and nation. The standardi- sation of an Austrian variety was supposed not only to unify the nation, but rather to mark-off the country from Germany with its High German. The desire to be distin- guished from the German nation, especially from the Prussians, dates back to the times of the Holy Roman Empire, which was marked by continuous rivalry between the Habsburg emperors and Prussia. This fight over power went on until the mid 19th cen- tury and intensified the perceived need to be Austrian and not German (Prussian). Al- though these power relations have disappeared, the motivation of demonstrating Aus- trian distinction has remained. The linguistic and societal developments in Austria start- ing in the 18th century will be analysed in more depth in the following sub-chapters.

3.1 Development in the 18th Century

The question of self-identification of social groups is not the invention of modern nationalism. It goes far back earlier in time. Already in the 16th/17th century uniformly organised absolutist territorial states in economically developed regions of Europe gained increasing significance. Since then, proto-national forms, in which language had a special symbolic role, have activated social self-identification and the importance of social distinction from the other emerged (Bodi 1995: 19).

A fundamental problem in the multilingual Habsburg Empire was the question how the falling apart of the great power, for which every manifestation of language nationalism was dangerous, could be prevented. Thus, establishing important foundations for the development of a German standard language that stood above the regional dialects was not possible in the German-speaking areas of the Habsburg realm. Therefore, the nexus between language development and nation-building that became an essential basis for the linguistic policies of middle and north German could not play a role in Austria.

Between 1749 and 1795 a crucial push for modernisation took place (Bodi 1995: 19- 21). In the late 18th century there were first attempts to cultivate a written German lan- guage in Austria. At that time dialects dominated the verbal discourse of every social class and instead of seeking for a cultivated written language, people were rather fond of acquiring foreign languages. It was not until the 18th century that it became a major endeavour of counteracting the neglect of a cultivated written language, since this ne- glect was regarded as the reason for Austria’s lower cultural performance in contrast to Saxony and Prussia, therefore the north German and east middle German regions. Espe- cially, since the Habsburgs lost Silesia in the war against Prussia, the need of rapidly catching up on Western Europe, in particular on Protestant Germany, aroused (Bodi 1995: 21-22).

In the course of bureaucratisation in the Danube Monarchy, modernisation and stan- dar]disation of the German language as a means of communication of the ruling German language group played an important role (Bodi 1995: 21-22). Also, the idea of the Enlightenment, that only a well-structured and smooth language promoted thinking led to the fact that a cultivated language was regarded as the precondition for achievements in any field of knowledge. This was seen as the only way towards cultural enhancement and public welfare (Wiesinger 2000: 528). Therefore, efforts were made to create a ‘civilised‘official language that the Enlightenment demanded. The standardisation model that was conducted in Protestant Germany by Johann Christoph Gottsched (1700- 1766) was an important role model that was to be altered soon after. The double func- tion of the Habsburgs as emperors of the Holy Roman Empire and absolutist rulers of the Habsburg dynasty complicated the Austrian self-identification intensely (Bodi 1995: 22). Joseph von Sonnenfels (1732-1817), an Austrian Enlightement philosopher and writer, became the leading figure in the Austrian language reform. His work partly rested upon the reform of the German written language in the sense of Gottsched, who based his concept on Upper Saxon German. However, Sonnenfels’ work was not simply a passive compliance to the Saxon model, since it followed the requests of a designated urban civilised style that went beyond Gottsched’s model. Sonnenfels engaged with the unification of the German language and with the reduction of the language diversity in the administration of the multiethnic state. His aim was to specially norm the language in Austrian territories by arguing that there had already been developed a separate Kan- zleisprache that differed from other German-speaking areas. Additionally, he mentioned the size and diversity of the great monarchy as a reason for the need of an individual language. These were essential conditions for the Austrian language cultivation and the literary practice to be divergent of the Northern German mainstream (Bodi 1995: 23- 24).

Moreover, the school reforms introduced by Maria Theresia (1717-1780) laid a founda- tion for the development of a new readership within the monarchy. This and the exten- sive production of textbooks brought about a book market that was strongly competing with the book industry of Protestant Germany (Bodi 1995: 26). The Austrian language cultivation in the 18th century was characterised by patriotic attempts to improve the language use for cultural enhancement and therefore to promote public welfare. In the same patriotic sense the German mother tongue was encouraged instead of the use of foreign languages. German should replace French as the language of the polite society and belles lettres, Italian as the language of music and Latin as the language of the uni- versities, science and the church (Wiesinger 2000: 531). The patriotic and nationalistic ideas eventually came to an end in the late 18th century when Metternich (1773-1859) established a police state and suppressed all liberal, democratic and national notions. However, Sonnenfels ‘standardisation model of the official language remained (Bodi 1995: 28). After the Metternich period, the initial nationalistic movements of the 18th century were resumed and had great impact on the next centuries as will be demonstrated in the following chapter.


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The Relationship between Language and Nation in the Development of Austrian German
University of St Andrews
Language and Nation in Europe
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Relationship, Language, Nation, Development, Austrian, German
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Robert Stolt (Author), 2009, The Relationship between Language and Nation in the Development of Austrian German, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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